The degradation of American talent (or) Where have all the players gone?

There’s a guy at work I chat with, and we frequently have the following discussion: whether it’s good for the United States for soccer players to increasingly be heading overseas to play.

There are — at least — two sides to the discussion. I’m sure there are more, but for tonight I’m going to focus on just two of them.

  1. With the best players going to the EPL, Bundesliga, Serie A, etc, the United States ends up with a stronger pool of talent for the national team and the U.S. is taken more seriously on an international level.
  2. With the best players going to the EPL, Bundesliga, Seria A, etc, the United States ends up with a weaker stateside league, leading to the decline of a recently increasing soccer enthusiasim in the U.S.

Both arguments have merits. Both arguments have pitfalls. For instance, do U.S. players from foreign leagues make for a stronger national team? Our performance in the 2006 World Cup would seem to indicate otherwise with the only goal coming from an MLS rookie of the year, Clint Dempsey.

Does the MLS get weaker with the best players leaving for foreign leagues? MLS deputy commissioner Ivan Gazidis says no (ref: SoccerNet article here), but if soccer has a reputation of being a boring game here in the states, how is it a good thing that our most exciting players (most recently, Clint Dempsey) are leaving?

What neither argument takes into account is the opportunities for the players themselves. In short, it’s a good thing for individual players who want to succeed and prosper in professional soccer to get out of the U.S. at the moment. That’s fine. We should, however, be thinking of how to build up the MLS so that those players can make a living here. Can be successful and prosperous here.

Call me nationalistic, but I think it’s a shame that talent like Dempsey, Brian McBride, Carlos Bocanegra, and local ace Charlie Davies aren’t playing for our league.

So I land closer to the second point listed above, though I can see merit in the first. First and foremost, however, I believe that the MLS should work to strengthen not only the league financially but also with talent. To do that, we need to get these players to want to play here. As more stay, the competition gets tougher, and more will want to stay.